“What is the purpose of life?” We might have different answers to this question. But I’m sure that for many of us, the purpose of life is to be happy.
We might seek many other things in life like – money, relationships, and good health. But the ultimate goal is to achieve happiness. We need money so that we are financially free, which makes us happy (or at least we think so). We want to have great relationships with friends, family, and loved ones so that we can be happy. And, last but not least, good health is necessary to stay happy.
No matter what religion people follow, everyone wants to be happy. They want to live a better and joyful life.
How to Achieve Happiness?
Howard C. Cutler, a psychologist/psychotherapist went on a journey to find the art of happiness. His primary source for this purpose was the Dalai Lama. The result of his journey is a book called The Art of Happiness.
Happiness can be achieved through training the mind.
There is no magic spell or hard work that is going to lead you to happiness. Instead, everything is in your mind. If you train your mind correctly, then you can easily achieve happiness. The Dalai Lama shares his experience on how he was able to achieve inner peace, calmness, and happiness by training his mind correctly.
By “training the mind” it does not mean you have to do some intense meditation practice, although meditation does have a lot of benefits. Meditation is only a part of it.
Happiness is not (just) determined by external events – “If I get this job, I will be happy.” or “If I have a new car, I will be happy.” Instead, it is determined by the state of mind.
One must develop a calmness of mind to live a happy and joyful life. Calmness in mind is developed by maintaining inner discipline.
If you possess this inner quality, a calmness of mind, a degree of stability within, then even if you lack various external facilities that you would normally consider necessary for happiness, it is still possible to live a happy and joyful life.
“How to maintain inner discipline and have calmness of mind?” By learning. We have to first learn that negative emotions are harmful and that positive emotions are helpful. Even though it is kind of obvious, we still do not realize it in our daily lives. By developing this realization, we are a step closer to becoming happy.
We need to practice identifying our mental state and then cultivate positive mental states and eliminate negative mental states. This is how we develop inner discipline. A disciplined mind leads to happiness and an undisciplined mind leads to suffering.
What Brings Happiness?
Once your inner mind is disciplined, you are now capable of achieving happiness. Use your disciplined mind to stimulate feelings of love, affection, closeness, and compassion.
Maintaining a feeling of compassion, love, and kindness will automatically open your inner doors, through which you can communicate much more easily with others. You will realize that people are just like you, that they are also seeking a happy and joyful life. You will be able to relate to them more easily.
A good way to increase compassion is by trying to empathize with another’s feelings or experiences. Put yourself in the other person’s place and see how you would have reacted to the situation. Doing this, you will not only understand the other person’s point of view but it will help you develop a greater connection to him or her. Being open-minded and honest also helps when you are dealing with other people.
Genuine compassion is based on the rationale that all human beings have an innate desire to be happy and overcome suffering, just like myself.
Pain and suffering are universal human phenomena. But how we deal with them is important, and it can affect our state of happiness. Our attitude towards suffering is very important because it can affect how we cope with suffering when it arises. We need to transform our attitude towards suffering by adopting to tolerate it. This can help counteract feelings of mental unhappiness, dissatisfaction, and discontent.
Death is an example of suffering that often affects a human being’s state of mind. We are often sad about the loss of a loved one. However, instead of letting it affect our mind, we must learn to accept the fact and realize the suffering. This will help us overcome the bad times faster than denying that everything is alright.
As long as we view suffering as an unnatural state, an abnormal condition that we fear, avoid and reject, we might never be able to move on from the causes of suffering and start living a happier life.
We often perpetuate our pain, keep it alive, by replaying our hurts over and over again in our minds, magnifying our injustices in the process. We also add to our pain and suffering by being overly sensitive, overreacting to minor things, and sometimes taking things too personally.
How do we overcome self-created suffering?
Firstly, we have to understand that whether we suffer depends on how we respond to a given situation. This is again due to the lack of inner discipline.
Secondly, we have to understand that we live in an imperfect world where every one of us has done something which we regret. Holding on to the memory of our past transgressions with continued self-blame and self-hatred serves no purpose other than a source of self-punishment and self-induced suffering.
Lastly, we have to accept change. Acceptance of change is an important factor in reducing self-created suffering. Sometimes, we have to learn to let go and move on from our past in order to create a better/happier future.
Bringing About Change
So how do you actually implement these ideas to achieve happiness? To do so, you must first understand that no matter what behavior you are seeking to change, no matter what goal you are trying to achieve, you need to begin by developing a strong willingness or wish to do it. So to bring about change, here are the three steps to follow, according to the Dalai Lama.
Step 1: Learning and Education
As I have previously mentioned, learning about positive and negative emotions is very important for internal transformation. When we talk about learning and education we mostly think it in terms of either academic achievements or learning new skills for securing a job. However, according to various surveys, having a good education is correlated to living a better and healthier life. One must, therefore, focus on learning and education that specifically focuses on understanding and implementing a full spectrum of factors that lead to lasting happiness.
Step 2: Determination and Enthusiasm
In a study of great American artists, athletes, and scientists, conducted by Benjamin Bloom, an educational psychologist, he discovered that drive and determination, not great natural talent, led to their success in their respective fields. This principle is also applicable to the art of achieving happiness.
The drive and determination are not used only in the pursuit of worldly success but develop as one gains a clearer understanding of the factors that lead to true happiness, and are used in the pursuit of higher goals, such as kindness, compassion, and spiritual development.
Step 3: Effort
You must obviously make an effort to bring about change. This is not only helpful in overcoming bad habits but also change our underlying attitudes and feelings. We usually believe that our attitudes and psychological traits determine our behavior. But, conversely, our behavior can also change our attitudes.
Even an artificially induced frown or smile tends to induce the corresponding emotions of anger or happiness. Hence, ‘going through the motions’ and repeatedly engaging in a positive behavior can eventually bring about genuine internal change.
When I first picked up this book, ‘The Art of Happiness‘, I thought that it would contain different meditation exercises or spiritual practices/teachings. However, after reading this book, I was proven wrong. It contained simple explanations and things we can do in our daily lives to achieve happiness.
I think that we have over-complicated the term ‘happiness’. We have come to believe that it is something very difficult to achieve. Rather, happiness can be achieved by a simple shift in our mindset and our day-to-day activities.
If I was to summarize my learning from The Art of Happiness, it would be this – in order to achieve happiness we must focus on positive emotions over the negative ones and we have to stimulate feelings of love, affection, closeness, and compassion.
The Dalai Lama also mentioned an important point about worry, which is:
If the situation or problem is such that it can be remedied, then there is no need to worry about it. Alternatively, if there is no way out, no solution, then there is also no point in being worried about it, because you can’t do anything about it anyway.